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Norcross/Turner Bill Allowing For School Elections In November Now Law

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Reform Measure Will Allow Voters to Take Control of Local Finances, Save Money

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Donald Norcross (D-Camden/Gloucester) and Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer) to give voters, municipalities and school districts the ability to move local school elections from April to November is now law.

The law (A-4394/S-3148) will provide residents more control over their property taxes, by allowing voters to decide – without the approval of a government entity – to eliminate a local election date, in some cases saving hundreds of thousands of dollars locally. The law sets forth several methods by which the April school elections could be moved to the date of the November general election, a move which also would provide for greater participation in the election process.

“Holding a separate election for the selection of school board members costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year. This common-sense reform has the potential to significantly cut elections-related costs by allowing municipalities and school districts to move school board elections to November, and giving voters express authority to eliminate an unnecessary election date,” said Senator Norcross. “By placing the decision-making in the hands of our residents, we are giving them the power to take control of their local property taxes and reduce government costs.”

“Reducing the number of elections that take place in this state will save taxpayers a significant amount of money,” said Senator Turner. “Further, consolidating the school election with the November general election will ensure that more voters participate in the process, which is important to making sure school boards are held accountable for their spending decisions.”

Under the law, a school district’s annual school election could be moved to November using one of the following methods:

• Upon the adoption of a resolution by the governing body of the municipality;

• Upon the adoption of a resolution by the municipality’s board of education, or;

• If a petition signed by 15 percent of the legally qualified voters who voted in the immediately preceding presidential election is filed with the municipality’s board of education.

Municipalities that successfully move their school elections to November will not be permitted to move their election back to the third Tuesday in April until at least four school elections have been held in November. For limited purpose regional school districts, each of the constituent local school districts must approve moving the election to November.

Additionally, if a district moves its election to November voters would not be required to vote on the district’s “base budget,” that is, a budget with a proposed tax levy that does not exceed the levy cap. Any “second questions” for spending above the district’s tax levy cap, would be presented to the voters in November.

“School costs make up the largest portion of residents’ property tax bills, but each year voter turnout in local school elections remains consistently low,” said Senator Norcross. “Moving school elections to November will ensure that more voters participate in the process of electing members of their local school boards, which make decisions on a regular basis that impact local property taxes.”

“For years, we have talked about the cost savings that would result from moving school elections to the date of the General Election. While this bill does not mandate November school elections, it empowers voters, school districts and municipalities to make decisions about whether to reduce the number of elections locally to create taxpayer savings,” Senator Turner. “Given the option, I believe we will see voters as well as local officials across the state begin to take advantage of this opportunity to have a hand in real cost-cutting in their communities.”

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 33-2. The Assembly approved it by a vote of 62-11-2. The law takes effect immediately.